COA: County Commissioners can’t amend fire district ordinance

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Brown County commissioners who created a countywide fire district lost an appeal of a trial court order saying they had no authority to later amend the ordinance that had created the district.

Creation of the Brown County Fire Protection District in 2007 consolidated four township fire departments but excluded the county seat of Nashville. The creation of the district resulted in lawsuits from land owners, but the district was affirmed.

In 2011, county commissioners amended the ordinance creating the district, stripping it of fire-protection services and sparking the instant suit, David Anderson, Comm., Joe Wray, Comm., and Board of Trustees, Brown Co. Fire. Prot. Dist. v. Susanne Gaudin, Janet Kramer, And Ruth Reichmann, 07A01-1406-PL-265. The Indiana Court of Appeals on Monday upheld a special judge’s ruling in Brown Circuit Court that the commissioners overreached.

“We affirm the trial court, finding that the ‘amendment’ made to the ordinance amounted to a de facto dissolution, and that the Commissioners did not have the authority to amend the ordinance at all,” Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote for the panel.

The panel noted the Fire District Act under I.C. 36-8-11-24 provides only one method for dissolution of a fire district – by a petition of landowners in the district.

“We find that in creating the District, which then became a separate entity (or political subdivision) with the Trustees at the helm, the Commissioners did expressly grant to the District and the Trustees the powers and authority enumerated in the Ordinance,” Vaidik wrote. “They therefore relinquished the power to amend the Ordinance. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court.”  


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